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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, May 18, 2000

Public worker
bargaining veteran
gives some advice

THERE may be no person better informed about collective bargaining for public employees than James H. Takushi -- certainly not on the employer side.

For 30 years, beginning in 1969, he was the personnel and/or collective bargaining chief for three governors (Burns, Ariyoshi and Cayetano) with seven years out for similar roles at the University of Hawaii during the Waihee administration. Prior to 1969 he was in private industry bargaining.

He disputes my idea that the Hawaii Public Employment Collective Bargaining Law of 1970 is the root of our personnel problems. Good law, he says.

Trouble is recent bargainers have tended to forget it. Also, our two most recent governors, John Waihee and Ben Cayetano, have preferred to by-pass the process and deal directly with the most important union leaders.

If governors and legislators would follow the law, Takushi says, today's collective bargaining results would be better. He thinks across-the-table bargaining is a great process for bringing both sides into a settlement that can be sold to the union memberships. It works in the private sector.

Failure to understand the laws, he said, has led to confusion over what falls under collective bargaining and what falls under civil service. He sees employer rights to manage clearly protected in the bargaining law.

They are to: "1) Direct employees, 2) determine qualification standards to work, the nature and contents of examinations, hire, promote, transfer, assign and retain employees in positions, and suspend, demote, discharge or take other disciplinary actions against employees for proper cause; 3) relieve an employee from duties because of lack of work or other legitimate reason; 4) maintain efficiency of government operations; 5) determine methods, means, and personnel by which the employer's operations are to be conducted and take such actions as may be necessary to carry out the missions of the employer in cases of emergencies."

Takushi finds the public mostly unaware that the Legislature, the public's representative, is the third party in public collective bargaining, unlike the private sector where there are only management and labor. The Legislature must approve -- and can reject -- any cost items agreed to by government and union negotiators.

Takushi worried in this year's Legislature about a move to eliminate a 1970 quid pro quo exempting essential workers from any right to strike. To let them strike, he said, would be disastrous for all concerned. The move became moot with the failure of Governor Cayetano's bid to end mandatory arbitration.

Takushi offers these suggestions to improve public collective bargaining:

Bullet Keep it open, with more sunshine through the media.
Bullet Require the parties to back proposals with factual data.
Bullet Consider the financial condition of the state and counties.
Bullet Abide by the employer rights section quoted above.
Bullet Treat public employees fairly and give them a voice in determining their wages, hours and working conditions.
Bullet Assure employees that the merit system will prevail over politics and favoritism.
Bullet Remember that the public prevails in the end with the Legislature as its voice.

As to the 1970 law, we all could live with it more happily if school principals were back in management where they belong and counties had special bargaining rights.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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